Giants in Trouble

Not every season the two biggest clubs in the Middle East and North Africa are facing a severe crisis as both Al-Ahly Cairo and Al-Hilal Riyadh are going through this term. 

For clubs in this caliber, it takes very little to call a particular situation a crisis. Usually, if they aren’t thrashing their local leagues and making full statement victories in the continental competitions, the fans, the board and the media are starting to lose it. 

In Egypt, for the first time in five years, Al-Ahly is about to lose the championship title to their bitter rivals Zamalek. If that’s not enough, in a CAF Champions League match last week, they heavily lost to South African powerhouse Mamelodi Sundowns, in a pathetic display by Africa’s club of the century in Pretoria. 

Heavily lost is an understatement to a match where Al-Ahly opened quite well, but after conceding the first goal on the 13th minute, things just went off track completely. They conceded four more goals throughout the game — succumbing their worst ever loss in African Champions League. It was their most significant loss in history probably — the highest in the past 25 years in an official match. 

The coach, Uruguayan Martin Lasarte, is already on the agenda of the club’s demanding and quite caprice board of directors. 

In Saudi Arabia, the situation is entirely different. Al-Hilal invested heavily this season signing a series of high profile foreigners, including Bafetimbi Gomis and Sebastian Giovinco. The target, as always, was the AFC Champions League, as well as the local title. 

Since the board sacked Portuguese coach Jorge Jesus at the end of January, the team has lost some of its strength, but the victories kept coming. 

Until the last international break, things still looked fine with new Croatian coach Zoran Mamić, but in the past few games the team drew once and lost two (including one to Esteghlal in the Asian Champions League), and won only two, with one of them just in extra time. 

These results are average, but in the climate of a club such as Al-Hilal, a series of games like these means one thing: Crisis. 

Whether one of the clubs will sack their coaches or will make other changes, Middle Eastern mega clubs are hard to compare to in manners of stress, pressure and expectations. 

Just ask Ramon Diaz, Slaven Bilic and a long list of famous European & South American professionals who tasted the swords of impulsive presidents of the region. 

As the famous phrase goes: If you can’t stand the heat, stay away from the kitchen.